The "oldest and newest volunteer" has come to campus, according to McClung Museum Director Jefferson Chapman.
He is referring to the 2,400-pound Edmontosaurus dinosaur unveiled today at 10:30 a.m. in the plaza in front of the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. Those in attendance numbered more than sixty, including mayors Madeline Rogero and Tim Burchett.
The dinosaur is a cast mold of a real Edmontosaurus dinosaur, not unlike the one McClung currently houses the bones of in its "Geology and Fossil History of Tennessee" permanent exhibit. It was cast by Art Castings of Colorado from skeleton molds from Triebold Paleontology.
For Chapman, the experience of putting together the exhibit has been a labor of love. The dinosaur traveled more than two days from Colorado uncovered in a truck bed, causing major traffic jams, according to Chapman.
"I taught history and I'm an archaeologist, so I've always been interested in that," Chapman said. "I have such a love of museums and they play such an important purpose in our society. It's been a rewarding experience."
Rogero, mayor of Knoxville, spoke a few opening words before the curtain was pulled off the large exhibit.
"Knoxville is really the cultural center of east Tennessee and McClung Museum is one of our true gems," Rogero said. "Institutions like McClung play a crucial role in building vibrant cities."
Chapman's excitement surrounding the exhibit has been seen by his family, including his daughter Cate Biggs who was in attendance at the unveiling.
"He's been like a little kid," Biggs said. "He's skipping around restaurants, showing little pictures of the dinosaur to people. He has done so much to grow this museum, and this is his lifelong work, his passion and gift to the community."
Stephanie Drumheller-Horton, a paleontologist and lecturer in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science, emphasized the local roots of the Edmontosaurus.
"It was picked because it was a non-avian dinosaur, and it's a relative of the one we currently have in the museum," Drumheller-Horton said. "It's well-known and it's a nice addition to the community. It's evidence of the interesting geologic history of Tennessee.
"It's good to highlight that in a public venue."
There is a certain difficulty in finding terrestrial dinosaurs like the Edmontosaurus, according to Drumheller-Horton, because they are often not preserved well.
"We were lucky to find (the bones of the one in the permanent exhibit) because most rocks and fossils are marine," she said. "We assume that it died upon land and washed into the ocean where it was preserved."
For Chapman, the reward comes from the diverse exhibits and the impact the museum has on the Knoxville community.
"Every day is different," Chapman said. Exhibits come and go, so it's never a dull moment. And we are given such exciting and interesting things. It's not like we're running a bottle plant or something.
"I'm happiest when I see whole lot of little kids marching in. We're influencing the next generation, and hopefully developing a love of museums and history."